ASK THE HORT AGENT
Question Can persimmon fruit be dangerous?
Answer Yes and no. They are nutritious, high in fiber, an excellent source of vitamin A and contain no fat. Tannins give the immature fruit its astringent taste. They also contain two compounds known as shibuol and betulinic acid that are thought to have anti-cancer properties.
Shibuol is the double edged sword. It can help and hurt you. Upon contact with stomach acid, shibuol can polymerize in the stomach forming a gluey coagulum that can affix with other stomach matter (clump of lunch). This coagulum is called a bezoar.
Bezoar sounds bizarre, but you are probably familiar with itís other names. A trichobezoar is also called a hairball. Cats get them all the time. In humans, 80% of trichobezoars occur in females less than 30 years old. People without teeth or dentures as well as brushmakers, blanket weavers and wool workers are all at a higher risk of developing a trichobezoar.
A phytobezoar is called a foodball, and a trichophytobezoar is also known as a hairy foodball. If you are a young, toothless, female, wool blanket maker, then I would advise against frequent Japanese persimmon snacks for fear of a hairy foodball development.
Greater than 85% of the foodballs (phytobezoars) are caused by eating unripe or nearly ripe persimmon fruit. Bezoars usually require medical attention. They can be dissolved by acids, fragmented by wire snares and water jets or surgically removed. More info about bezoars can be found at http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec02/ch014/ch014b.html
An unripe American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) will cause your mouth to pucker so bad, that the average person will not eat enough of this fruit to cause a bezoar. However, the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is sweeter and much larger. Since it is also the most widely cultivated species, it is also more likely to be the cause of a bezoar in over indulgent consumers.
For more info on persimmon trees, visit http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/hgic1357.htm or http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-377.html If you do not have internet access, then call 893-7530 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bezoars are often developed in animals other than cats. Cattle and goats are most likely to contain what appear to be rocks. These substances are called bezoar stones. For hundreds of years, they were thought to have the ability to heal poison related diseases. As yucky as the images in your mind may be of bezoars, can you believe that many women wear them around their neck? We call them pearls.
Gary L. Pierce
Horticulture Extension Agent